On Which Court has Jurisdiction to Entertain Garnishee Proceeding against the Central Bank Of Nigeria

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CASE TITLE: CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA v. ACCESS BANK PLC & ORS (2022) LPELR-57017(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 10TH MARCH, 2022

JUSTICES:

  • MOJEED ADEKUNLE OWOADE, JCA
  • BITRUS GYARAZAMA SANGA, JCA
  • MOHAMMED BABA IDRIS, JCA

COURT DIVISION: KADUNA

PRACTICE AREA: PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE- GARNISHEE PROCEEDINGS

FACTS:
Access Bank Plc. (1st Respondent) (Formerly Diamond Bank Plc) as Judgment Creditor filed a Motion ex parte brought pursuant to Sections 83, 85 and 86 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, 2004, wherein it applied for a Garnishee Order Nisi against Central Bank of Nigeria (Appellant) as 1st Garnishee and others. The High Court of Kaduna State granted the reliefs sought by the 1st Respondent and attached the accounts of the judgment debtor (Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) with the garnishee banks in satisfaction of the judgment debt amounting to N29,997,807.20.
The High Court also made an order that the garnishees should disclose by affidavit on oath and with statements of account, the sum(s) outstanding in the Judgment Debtor ‘s accounts with each of them within 14 days of service of the order and to appear before the Court to show cause why they should not pay to the Judgment Creditor the monies of the Judgment Debtor in their custody in satisfaction of the judgment debt.
In response, the Appellant filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection on the grounds that the 1st Garnishee is the Central Bank of Nigeria and a Federal Government agency. That Section 251(1)(d) gives the Federal High Court the exclusive Jurisdiction to entertain the matter against the 1st Garnishee. Thus, the suit was incompetently commenced against the 1st Garnishee as the High Court lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The Appellant also filed an affidavit to show cause why the garnishee order should not be made absolute against it wherein it deposed that there were no sufficient facts before the trial Court to prove that the 3rd Respondent maintains a bank account with the Appellant containing the judgment sum.
In its considered ruling, the trial Court dismissed the Notice of Preliminary Objection, assumed jurisdiction and consequently made the Garnishee Order Absolute against the Appellant.
Dissatisfied with the rulings of the High Court, the Appellant appealed.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The appeal was determined upon consideration of the issues thus:
1. Whether the trial Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the Garnishee proceedings against the Appellant viz-a-viz the provisions of Section 251(1)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Sections 7(1)(a)(b) and 8 of the Federal High Court Act and Order VIII Rules 2, 3 and 9 of the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules.
2. Whether the trial Court has the jurisdiction to entertain the Garnishee proceedings against the Appellant viz-a-viz the provisions of Section 84 Sheriff and Civil Process Act and Section 318 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), without the prior consent of the Attorney General of the Federation first obtained.
3. Whether the trial Court was right to make the Garnishee Order Nisi Absolute against the Appellant.
COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS
Learned Counsel for the Appellant ‘s submitted that Section 251(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), clearly outlines the matters in which the Federal High Court enjoys exclusive jurisdiction to the exclusion of the State High Court and the position is on all fours with Section 7(1)(a) and (b) and Section 8 of the Federal High Court Act. As such, the garnishee proceedings filed at the trial Court fall under the matters within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. Thus, the trial Court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to have entertained the garnishee proceedings against the Appellant. That the Appellant is in the public service of the Federation as provided under Section 318 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and manned by a public officer in accordance with Section 19 of the 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
In response, Learned Counsel for the 1st Respondent submitted that the fact that an action is against the Federal Government or its agency as in the extant case does not ipso facto bring the case within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. That the Appellant is not a Public Officer as contemplated under Section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act consequently, the consent of the Attorney General is not required prior to the commencement of garnishee proceedings in enforcing the judgment of the trial Court.
Learned Counsel for the 2nd Respondent submitted that that for the Federal High Court to assume exclusive jurisdiction under Sub Section (d) of Section 251(1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), it is not enough that the action is against the Central Bank of Nigeria but in addition, the dispute must arise from banking. That the dispute being one of garnishee, is not in any way connected to banking such as to confer jurisdiction on the Federal High Court exclusively as the Appellant being a bank is only incidental.
DECISION/HELD
In the final analysis, the appeal succeeded. The Garnishee Order Nisi and Garnishee Order absolute made by the High Court of Kaduna State were consequently set aside as condition precedent for jurisdiction was not observed as provided for under Section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act.

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RATIO
PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE- GARNISHEE PROCEEDINGS:
Which Court has jurisdiction to entertain a garnishee proceeding against a Central Bank of Nigeria
“It is also settled that the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court is circumscribed by Section 251(1)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and it provides the subject matter over which the Federal High Court can exercise jurisdiction. The Constitution also used the word “NOT WITHSTANDING” to circumscribe the jurisdiction. In considering Section 251(1)(d) of the Constitution, both the subject matter and the parties are important. The provision is so clear, it is plain, and its applicability to the situation at hand is to say the least inadequate. This is so because whichever way one looks at jurisdiction, garnishee proceedings though clearly a means of enforcement of judgments, cannot be properly termed as substantive civil or criminal suit covered by the provisions of Section 251(1) of the Constitution, and in any event, as rightly pointed out, the Appellant was not even a party in Suit No. KDH/KAD/473/2009 before the trial Court, which delivered the judgment now sought to be enforced. The Appellant only became a party for the purpose of the garnishee proceedings after the 1st Respondent sought to enforce the judgment of the Court. Also, the issues at the trial Court did not have related matters of banking, or “…connected with or pertaining to banking…” within the meaning and purport of Section 251(1)(d) of the Constitution as it relates to the Appellant. In the circumstances therefore, this Court is of the firm view that the High Court of Kaduna State had the jurisdiction to entertain the matter of the garnishee proceeding as it did on this score. It also is clear from reading the provisions of Order VIII Rules 2, 3 and 9 of the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules and Section 7(1)(a)(b) and 8 of the Federal High Court Act, that they are procedural in nature and not capable of conferring the Court with jurisdiction. It only laid down the procedure to be followed to enforce the judgment of Court by way of garnishee proceedings. The role of a garnishee in any garnishee proceeding is delimited. It is not envisaged that after the judgment creditor has gone through the rigors of establishing his rights through the legal system, that the garnishee, who is asked to surrender the judgment debtor’s money in its possession should engage the judgment creditor in another bout of legal battle. Before I conclude, It is also important to state in addition to all that I have already said that to my mind, the argument of the Appellant in paragraph 5.19 of the Appellant’s Brief of Argument does not hold water because the substantive suit being one involving a banker/customer relationship between the 1st and 3rd Respondents which culminated into the enforcement of the judgment by the institution of the garnishee proceedings at the Court that gave the substantive judgment does not preclude the 1st Respondent from getting the judgment sum owed by the 3rd Respondent even though same is under the control of the Appellant, and I so hold. It is therefore my unshaken view, having all the above findings in mind, that the trial Court had the jurisdiction to entertain the garnishee proceedings against the Appellant viz-a-viz the provisions of Section 251(1)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Sections 7(1) (a)(b) and 8 of the Federal High Court Act and Order VIII Rules 2, 3 and 9 of the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules.”
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